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Obstacle Race or Mud Run: Build It and They Will Come

Obstacle races and mud runs have become all the rage over the past few years. The Tough Mudder organization alone saw over 2 million people participate at their events last year. The Spartan Race is another version of the obstacle race that is geared for intensely competitive people who want to be physically pushed to their limit. You will also find any number of other versions of an obstacle race or mud run in smaller communities around the country. If your participants want to race or just want the accomplishment of finishing, everyone has a smile on their dirty faces at the finish line of these events. Here are some considerations for adding one to your calendar of events.

Obstacle Race or Mud Run:  Build It and They Will Come

No surprise here that we address safety right out of the gate. Of course the safety of participants should always be the #`1 concern of every race director of any event, but this goes double when you add mud pits, climbing walls and a variety of other obstacles into the mix. This part of your plan should be extremely detailed and be prepared for the worst possible scenario when it comes to potential injuries.

You should have an ambulance on site for your event and several EMT’s on hand to help anyone who has even minor scrapes or injuries. Think about the medical tent for your local 5k road race and put it on steroids for your obstacle race or mud run. Recruit volunteers with medical training if possible. Maybe get the local emergency clinic or hospital to sponsor and help staff the medical tent.

Related: Safety Concerns Every RD Should Think About

The number and range of injuries will also be relative to the demographics that sign-up and participate in your event, so be sure to be mindful of designing a course that is challenging, but not impossible for large numbers of your runners. Depending on the number of people moving through an obstacle at a time, have multiple safety officers observing and assisting people at all times. Due to the potential for a serious injury, make sure there are radio communications at every obstacle that can reach emergency medical services instantaneously if needed.

Every event should have appropriate insurance in place to protect you and other other involved parties or facilities that you use. Expect municipalities or private land owners to require you to have an umbrella liability policy of at least $1-3 million or more. These types of policies are not as expensive as you might think.

Related: Race Insurance and Event Waivers

Choosing an appropriate venue for your event is key. Partnering with a local Parks and Recreation department and using a larger city park could be a winning combination. The length of courses and the number of obstacles varies widely from event to event. Most seem to average between 5 to 12 miles long and have between 12 to 24 obstacles. Look for venues that can allow you to utilize the topography or natural features to create obstacles or challenges that you do not have to build.

The location you choose will also depend on the number of participants you plan to have and what kind of festivities you offer after the event. Make sure there is plenty of parking as well. People like to spectate at these events so make sure you can handle the crowds. If there are no facilities such as bathrooms you will need to plan on getting an appropriate number of port-a-potties delivered for the day of the event. 75 per person is a solid rule of thumb to follow.

Obstacle Race or Mud Run:  Build It and They Will Come

Course Design
This goes hand-in-hand with your venue selection. Start with to-scale map of the site that shows primary topographical details. This will allow you to begin to layout the flow of your course and identify the natural features you can include or highlight. From there you can start to add additional manmade obstacles. Also be sure to space things out appropriately between obstacles. You want to keep a nice flow on the course so that several groups of participants can complete obstacles without having to stand around and wait for other runners to clear out of the way.

Generally, mud runs and obstacle races have different groups or waves of starts or set up different sessions for people to complete the course and avoid bottlenecks at obstacles. These can be organized many different ways. It could be by age group or you could set-up competitive and noncompetitive sessions, so that people with similar goals are all out on the course at the same time.

Tip: Have a mini or modified course for kids under 10 to make it a family affair.

You will want to employ an engineer out someone with significant construction experience who understands the loads and physics of a particular obstacle. Especially one that might see 1000 people climb over it in a 6-hour period of time. Over-build and over-engineer every obstacle constructed. Find a third party to inspect and verify the design and build to make sure your team did not overlook any aspect of creating a failsafe obstacle. Build and test all obstacles well in advance of race day to avoid having to complete upgrades or modifications under the stress of your impending starting time.

Race Set-up
Most 5k or 10k road races can be set-up early the morning of a race. Many trail races of longer durations will see courses marked and verified a day or two before race day. For a typical mud run or obstacle race you will want to give yourself 3-5 days to properly set-up a safe course. This includes fencing or other barriers to keep spectators out of the obstacle areas and clear of the running sections of the course.

As with any event, make your start/finish area party central. Lots of music, banners/signs as well as an announcer to recognize finishers and provide group start announcements. People are going to be extra dirty, so think about providing hoses or portable showers for people who are ready to clean-up before getting in their vehicles to go home. Set-up a podium or great backdrop with your logo and race name so that individuals and teams can get a photo in all their muddy glory right after finishing the race.

Additional Details
Be sure and pay attention to all the other usual details that you would for any other "regular" running event. Peruse past articles in the RaceDirector blog for many other topics that will be helpful. Here is a quick list of other particulars to pay attention to as well.

Here at RaceDirector we love to get dirty! Whether it might be a dusty trail, a rain-soaked run through the neighborhood or a belly flop in a mud pit we are game. If you put the right thought into building a safe and challenging obstacle course or mud run we would be the first to sign up!

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